Aiston Steps In From Endurance To Win, Leaves With Trip To iZone
Into the afternoon the wind got up a bit and the track began to dry boding well for some entertaining racing from the lights, heavies and super heavies. Strong entries too across all the classes. With both lights and heavies split into two groups there were going to be some enthralling qualifying sessions with all eyes on the timing screens reports Steve Gray.
Qualifying Group 1
Only one driver broke the forty seven second barrier. Mark Figes hasn’t raced with the club for several years but he showed he’s lost none of his pace. Steve Bosley was second quickest a tenth adrift with Mark Turner fifth and Michael Ballinger an excellent fourth. Andy Cowell was next up. He left it very late having languished way down the order for much of the session before putting in a barnstorming final lap. He was just 0.008 up on Adam Brown and just 0.024 up on his old adversary, the ever young Tim Hill. Steve Townsend was next up ahead of Ben Cottle with James English completing the top ten. Second to twentieth was covered by just under a second. Howard Mitchell was quickest of the Super Heavies.
Qualifying Group 2
James Browning left it till his last lap to set the best time of the session with a 46.778 some three tenths quicker than he had previously been. Mark Ridout also left it till his final lap to set his best time just over a tenth away from Browning. These two were the only drivers to break the forty seven second barrier with Martin Gurnett leading the chasing pack. JJ Aiston was fourth quickest, the very experienced Endurance racer having his first outing in a sprint event. Adam Wright was fifth from Paul Williams, Bobby Dawes, Claudio La rosa and James Johnstone, fastest super heavy, with Ben Benneyworth completing the top ten.
Pre B Final
Thirty drivers going for the top four spots and a place in the pre A final. Adlam made a sharp getaway to lead but Johnstone was already in trouble getting shuffled down the order to ninth allowing Dawson and Browning up to second and third. Johnstone wasn’t the only to get caught out. Bennyworth, Cherry and Bodnar also suffered whilst Harrington, Stevens and James starting tenth, eleventh and twelfth found themselves in the top six. It was frantic stuff. Storey and Cresdee started mid grid but found themselves down the order. One lap gone and the pushers were already on overtime! Adlam continued to lead pressed hard by Dawson, Browning and Caen with Harrington closing rapidly and Bodnar beginning to recover after his opening lap drama. Adlam began to pull a gap aided by the fight for second.
With three gone Dawson was demoted to fifth behind Browning, Caen and Harrington and then a change at the top of the order as Adlam spun out of the lead. Caen fell to fourth and into the clutches of the recovering Bodnar whilst Dawson took full advantage to move back up to third. A lap later and Bodnar usurped Caen for fourth and that looked to have settled the order as Brown began to pull away from Harrington and Dawson with Bodnar running comfortably now in fourth ahead of Caen and Lammin. And that was pretty much it as the leaders reeled of the final laps. But there were penalties. Browning took the win from Harrington but Dawson’s hard earned third came top nothing as he received a four place deduction for multiple contacts promoting Bodnar to third and Caen into the all important fourth spot.
Pre A Final
James Browning led the pack after one lap and never lost the lead right to the end. But it wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Mark Ridout held second away from the lights chased hard by a fast starting Steve Bosley, up from fifth, demoting Mark Figes and Martin Gurnett who also fell behind Andy Cowell, up from eighth. Mark Turner also lost out but the biggest loser was Michael Ballinger falling from seventh to eleventh. By half distance he was down to eighteenth. Not a great race for Michael who also suffered a six place penalty which he appealed but having had the reason explained to him he accepted his fate with good grace. A lesson in manners and good sense to all. Quarter distance and Browning still led from Ridout with Cowell third having dispensed Bosley. Figes and Gurnett were fifth and sixth but it was close. Five gone and suddenly it was Bosley into second ahead of Ridout, Figes and Cowell with Gurnett still sixth. Cowell recovered quickly into fourth as Ridout began to fall away.
With ten laps run Browning still led with Bosley, Figes and Cowell line astern. Gurnett was now fending off a strong challenge from Ben Cottle who had moved up from fourteenth closely followed by Paul Williams. Gurnett got by Cowell only for Cowell to get him back a lap later whilst Cottle’s good run up to sixth came to end as he got jumped by Williams, Brown and Ridout on the last lap. So Browning took the win by a tenth from Bosley. Figes took third but it was Gurnett in fourth after Cowell lost a place having knocked over a cone, a fate which also befell Brown dropping him to seventh behind Ridout. Williams crossed the line sixth but took a three place penalty after gaining a place through contact whilst Turner completed the top ten. But what about the lap times? Pole for the final belonged to thirteenth placed Jon Gooch who just missed out on breaking the forty seven second barrier by just 0.007. Cottle would start alongside him. JJ Aiston was third quickest having finished twenty second! Cowell would start alongside him. Figes and Williams were on three with James English, sixteenth in the race and Steve Townsend, twenty fourth and last, alongside on row four. Gurnett and Bosley had row five whilst race winner Browning would start from grid twenty. Fair? Maybe not for some but it makes for great entertainment!
Races aren’t won on the first lap but they are lost. I guess with just two places to race for drivers can get a little over eager. Alex Lammin crossed the line first ahead of Ben Bennyworth and Nick Trafford but he had already transgressed leaving all his hard work to no avail as he dropped to seventh leaving Bennyworth and Super Heavyweight Trafford to progress to the A final. It had been a good battle at the front between these three and whilst Trafford fell away towards the end he’d still put in a shift. Aaron Stevens took third. Never quite close enough to challenge the leaders but always in contention. Too many drivers though lost any chance of progress spinning away their chances in the first couple of laps. Remember the old racing adage, to finish first, first you have to finish. Drivers take note.
And so to the last race of the day. Gooch led the field away from pole but it was fourth placed Cowell who used all his experience to muscle his way into first by the end of the second lap closely pursued by Cottle with Gooch down to third ahead of Figes and Aiston. Down the order Lenny Wood put in a great couple of early laps to vault himself up from twentieth into the top ten whilst Tim Hill fell back to nineteenth at the end of lap one. Half distance and Cowell continued to lead but Aiston was putting pressure on Cottle duly getting by for second in the hairpins and hunting down the leader. Figes too made it by Cottle into third. Two thirds distance and Aiston was challenging for the lead. Down the hill into paddock he dived up the inside but Cowell is a wily character. He let him run wide and then immediately dived up the inside into Garda to retake the lead. All this bunched the chasing pack allowing Figes to take advantage and move into second whilst Cowell gained a few lengths and a bit of respite.
But not for long. Both Figes and Aiston began to real him in whilst Paul Williams moved into fourth ahead of English and Cottle. With two left Figes was right on Cowell’s bumper and as they went into the hairpins he moved inside Cowell. Both ran wide and the following Aiston was through in a heartbeat to take the lead whilst Cowell and Figes remained side by side but with Cowell on the inside as they exited the second hairpin. Track position was enough for him to hold on to second. Aiston pulled out a gap and maintained it for a great win in his first ever Sprint event. Cowell crossed the line second but the drama wasn’t over as he was just underweight on the scales. Much to everyone’s amusement. So Figes took second from Williams with Ridout fourth. A great drive this which went largely unnoticed with all the drama at the front. English took fifth ahead of Cottle and a charging Tim Hill who made up thirteen places during the race. Steve Bosley would have finished fifth but for a three place penalty whilst Lennie Wood and Gooch completed the top ten. Adam Wright set fastest lap with Nick Trafford taking the Super Heavyweight honours being the only Super Heavyweight to make the A final.
A great days racing then but with way too many penalties for cone abuse and exceeding track limits. Whilst the conditions probably contributed I’m sure standards will be better at the next round. And our thanks to all the marshalls and staff, without whose contributions we couldn’t go racing.
Roll on Whilton Mill !!
Round 2 will be on 19 March 2017.
Photography: Jack Mitchell, JAM Motorsport Photography